Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
Writer: Paweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Głowacki, and Piotr Borkowski
Cinematographer: Łukasz Żal
Producer: Tanya Seghatchian and Ewa Puszczyńska
by Jon Cvack
Cold War is the art house version of A Star is Born (2018), taking place in post-WWII Poland where a musician and conductor Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) searches for talent in the rural countryside where hundreds gather to audition for a Soviet funded choral ensemble. He comes across singer Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń (Joanna Kulig) and the two quickly fall in love. The pair gain a bit of success, though behind the Iron Curtain, they’re forced to continue their propagandistic mission. Wiktor craves the freedom of the west and when Zula gets caught up with some satellite oligarchy, Wiktor heads across the border alone.
Years later, Zula joins him and the two perform at a local jazz club, later meeting the upper echelons of West Berlin society, and soon Zula takes interest in a successful music producer. Later the pair separate, leading Zula back to Poland, and for Wiktor to pursue her once again. He’s caught, and having escaped, is thrown into a labor camp for a five year sentence, though possibly for life if you’re open to the ending being a possible fantasy. The pair end up at an abandoned church near where they first met, take some pills, and in a beautiful closing shot, die one of the most peaceful suicides to ever graze the screen.
Not having seen Ida (2013), I had no idea what to expect with Pawel Pawlikowski’s style. I read the American Cinematographer article a few days after reading this, discovering that Pawlikowski engaged in a bunch of long one takes. I do remember the one in the bar when Zula gets lit up, but beyond that I wouldn’t have assumed it to be the particular style; accomplishing the rare feat in creating a narrative so engaging that I completely lost track of all things technical.
Pawel says the film was inspired by his parents’ own tumultuous relationship, including moving from country to country. The metaphor is easy enough to extend from there. We’re in a period of grand division in which we want walls to divide us. According to the latest FiveThirtyEight podcast (as of this writing on Feb 4, 2019) a recent poll showed democrats rejecting compromise is on the rise. On Political Gabfest (Jan 30, 2019) the trio had a guest on who did a New Yorker piece of Mitch McConnell, who has taken limited government to the extreme in that most big legislation is passed by liberals, therefore he decided not pass anything and instead act as a pipeline for conservative justices who could then dismantle the current - and future - big liberal laws bit by bit. My first reaction was that it’s nefarious and disgusting, and yet then I consider that he’s doing what he fully believes; and therefore his limited government philosophy makes sense to him.
Cold War shows that profound passion for another; where no matter how awful or selfish they are, your love is able to look beyond all that. More and more I consider what the world would look like if everyone - liberal and conservative - tried to assume the best intentions of the other, or to better yet try and understand why they are the way they are and what they care about. From there I imagine the bridge between. It’s intensely sentimental, and yet could solve so many of the problems we have right now.
It’s the conclusion suicide that challenges the ideas. A few people have mentioned that it seems only crisis and tragedy can bring the country together. Another podcast (I forgot which) had mentioned another 9/11 event is what seems required - not at all hoping for it, so much as mentioning that nowadays it seems that only something of that scale could ever bridge the divide.I’ve thought about it for a while and struggle to think of anything else. Other than some grand space race of sorts, I can’t imagine anything else resolving the issue. Pawlikowski seems to have the same view.
BELOW: Polish Jazz Oner
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